By request of Kierstens of Suddenly in Asia, I am doing this post about Singlish words. This post is dedicated to you, Kierstens. Hope you like it.
Singlish is a very easy going form of communication and highly economical. You need just one word to express what another language would need a whole sentence to explain. It’s used to joke with your friends and family. It’s mostly only used in informal situations and close relationships. Hardly used with your boss for example. Often it’s uttered to chide people as you’ll see in the examples below. Singlish is checkered with Hokkien (Chinese dialect) phrases and words and these are some of my favourites, which I learnt over the years:
Paiseh: to say sorry as well as I feel embarrassed about that (pronounced pai say)
e.g. Paiseh la. I made you all wait for so long.
Hao Lian: proud and boastful (pronounced ‘how lianne’)
e.g. Don’t be so ‘hao lian’.
Ta Pow: Americans would say To go, which I really had to get used to when I travelled there for the first time. It just means whether you want your food to be packed for take away purposes (pronounced ‘tha pow’)
e.g. You want to ‘Ta Pow’ or eat here?
Suan: Mocked and teased in a sarcastic way – a light kind of insulting (pronounced ‘swaan’)
He just ‘suan-ed’ you
Kan Chiong: Do things in a hurried panicky manner as if you have no time, but you actually do. Like the event is months away, but the boss is so worried about it and driving everyone nuts getting his presentation ready. It’s sort of associated with being kiasu (afraid to lose out)
e.g. Don’t be so kan cheong. (pronounced ‘kan cheeong)
In Singapore we also tend to say things a little differently. Our education system has been British, but we’re increasingly becoming more Americanized in terms of the school system and with the influence of TV, movies and celebrities we love:
1. handphone instead of cell phone or mobile
2. ‘takeaway’ instead of ‘to go’ at Fast Food outlets.
3. parking lot to refer to one space (which is actually grammatically incorrect) instead of parking space
4. carpark instead of parking garage
5. shopping centre instead of mall (but in the last decade we’ve converted to mall and become more Americanized especially with the influence of TV and movies)
6. Can I have the bill instead of cheque please, when you’re reading to pay for your meal at a restaurant.
I am not sure whether most expats or foreigners know this, but sometimes when a local person speaks to an American or British native speaker, they tend to ‘slang’ or put on a fake accent. This is at the same time amusing and derrided by locals. It’s quite comical to us when we see touts putting on a fake accent when trying to hard sell stuff at areas like Lucky Plaza or Sim Lim. Another reason why we have a fake accent is to make ourselves better understood, but it always sounds so terribly fake and awful to locals. It’s akin to Angelina Jolie attempting to do a British accent on The Tourist and Tomb Raider, but loads worse.
Sometimes an accent is assumed just because people are trying to be atas. As you know atas (pronounced ah-thaas) is a Malay word literally meaning upstairs. It’s used to scold someone when they are trying to be pretentious, snooty or high class. If you know someone who refuses to go to hawker centers or take public transport you can accuse them of being atas. Just have fun with it and it’ll soon be part of your vocabulary.
Poor Dawn Yang. I was doing a web search with the key words, fake accent and Singaporean and got this video. It’s not too bad, but just an example of the accent I was talking about. Dawn’s actually pretty sweet in the video. I’ll try to look out for a better example and update this post with new words as well, when I am not feeling too lazy.
Kirsten of Funny Little World, just reminded me of animal references in Singlish – thanks Kirsten!
Blurr sotong which refers to squid or octopus in Malay (it’s not a complement and it’s used when you’re teased as being not sharp or unaware of things)
Kancheong spider (does everything superfast and hurriedly like they have a plane to catch, maybe because that’s the way a spider moves – basically meaning being very anal and uptight about things)
Besides la we like to use ya and ah as inflections of speech. Ah (meaning something like ‘oh is that so?’) comes at the end of the sentence for confirmation. Just listen to this hilarious taped phone conversation between a German Expatriate and a Singaporean Auntie. For the first minute or so even I have difficulty understanding what the aunty is saying.
But imagine a Singapore without Singlish….a lot less fun.
The coolest part about Singlish is that when you hear someone speaking Singlish over the phone can’t identify them by race, just that they are Singaporean. Eurasian, Indian, Malay or Chinese etc., Singaporean school kids these days sound the same to me.